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How Mobile Apps Can Power Up Your Internal Communications

November 23, 2022 Digital Workplace
Suzie Robinson
By Suzie Robinson LinkedIn

With the evolution of mobile technology over the past decade, we've reached a point where it feels as if every digital workplace tool now has an app. Company-issued and personal devices are cluttered with them, each added dutifully by a department thinking that it will help people get work done. After all, it's only one app.

As a result, internal communications tools can feel buried, or employees balk at having yet another place to visit to get information. With so many mobile products serving the needs of multiple departments, it can be tricky to know where to start to find the right solution for your internal communications needs.

How Intranets Can Help

Intranets have long offered a solution to businesses wishing to reach people with news. This is because intranets typically include:

  • Good audience targeting features.
  • Page building tools.
  • Analytics that help with the creation and monitoring of communications.

Communications tools have also evolved, to the point where multiple channels can be served from within the intranet. Many have the added draw of multiple features or tools (either in-built or integrated from other systems), company policies / procedures and a people directory — all aided by a system-wide search. Even if people use Microsoft Teams to get things done, the intranet is where they go to find things out.

It might therefore be tempting to give people access to the entire intranet experience via the intranet’s app. However, I'd recommend caution here. While having such a comprehensive tool is excellent on desktop, the experience may not translate well to mobile. Ask yourself, for example, are all menu areas on the intranet relevant to people using an app (whether frontline or desk users), or would widgets on the home page make more sense for a small-screen experience?

The best intranet products allow admins to configure what’s shown to a mobile user versus a desktop user. Businesses can therefore make sure they only present vital tools, news and other information to those on the move — rather than simply everything. Challenges specific to frontline workers arise too, including getting them onto the app (something covered in the next section in more detail) and providing tools that really matter to them (such as shift swapping, booking time off or ordering a new uniform). The best intranets will provide solutions for these, but how effectively these needs are met varies a lot from product to product so should be carefully explored: don’t take it for granted that just because a vendor has an app it will meet frontline needs.

Related Article: How Intranets and Employee Experience Platforms Complement and Compete

How Employee Mobile App Products Can Help

Over the past five-or-so years a new breed of employee experience technology has emerged. Called broadly ‘employee mobile apps’, these tools are built with a mobile-first approach and with the needs of the frontline firmly in mind. Some of the bigger brands include Beekeeper, Blink and Appspace. Staffbase has its origins there too.

These products effectively serve the challenging and unique needs of the frontline workforce. Whereas an intranet offers a broad and deep experience for end users, employee apps are lighter and leaner by comparison. This light and lean approach is reflected in a couple of ways. First, products have a reduced set of features, offering a more narrowly focussed solution that meets specific needs rather than trying to address everything possible within a digital workplace. In turn, each employee mobile app solution focuses in different amounts on four business areas:

  1. Communication
  2. Operations
  3. HR and people
  4. Being a ‘digital workplace hub’

Through the reduced features and strategic lean in focus, businesses can choose a solution that meets the needs of the frontline without overwhelming them with loads of functionality. Happily for internal communicators, features for news creation and management are often present among all products (although some do it better than others).

While employee mobile app products offer an excellent solution for the frontline, know they come at the expense of some functionality. Generally speaking, search, life cycle and governance tools, and approaches to reference materials are not as strong as you would find in an intranet product. This might not matter too much for the frontline but is something to consider when considering a new tool for the business. Overall, however, they do a good job of addressing the needs of the frontline and provide a compelling solution.

Related Article: Remember, Disruption Isn't Just About White-Collar Workers

How to Choose the Right Solution

Any product selection process must begin with your company and departmental strategies. If you’re considering a tool for the frontline, the latter is particularly important, as you don’t want to swamp your frontline colleagues with just another app. A cohesive digital workplace strategy that addresses departmental plus user needs is the best way forward.

Once you know what your colleagues want, what the business needs, and what your strategy looks like, you can think about requirements to meet these needs. Only then can you consider potential products, as you'll know what they must deliver to be successful in your business. 

About the Author

Suzie Robinson is a digital workplace consultant at ClearBox and has responsibility for their suite of review reports. Suzie has worked with intranets since 2007 and has practical experience with all aspects of an intranet lifecycle.

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